'Hannibal' vs. 'American Horror Story': Is Network Now More Gruesome Than Cable?

Before the Season 1 conclusion of "Hannibal," we're comparing two of TV's most horrifying shows.

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Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in "Hannibal" and Rubberman in "American Horror Story"
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Networks have been playing catch-up with TV's freakiest trend: horror. (Let's not even get into ABC's epic fail "666 Park Avenue.") Along with AMC's "The Walking Dead," FX's "American Horror Story" has set the bar for grotesque, disturbing imagery and graphic violence on nonpremium channels while providing haunting social commentary on insanity, reality, and loyalty.

[Related: 'Hannibal' vs. 'Silence of the Lambs': What's Different?]

"American Horror Story" is not for the faint of heart. And now, there's a new contender in the TV horror game, and it comes from an unlikely place: NBC. The network's freshman series "Hannibal" (the finale airs tonight!) is definitely a thriller, a drama, and a police procedural — but it's also, without a doubt, horror.

[Video: TV's 11 Most Disturbing Moments]

"Hannibal's" vivid, extravagant, and terrifying imagery rivals that of any cable offering. In fact, for some, it might simply be too extreme for network television. A Utah NBC affiliate pulled the show off the air due to "extremely gory" content; and in the wake of the Boston bombings, the fourth episode, "Ceuf," never aired. The series, no doubt, is pushing the boundaries, but just how far? You're about to find out.

[Related: From 'True Blood' to 'Teen Wolf,' We Rank TV's Werewolf Transformations]

We're putting "American Horror Story" (both seasons "Murder House" and "Asylum") head-to-head with "Hannibal" — which has already been renewed for a second season — to find out if the network's gory thriller stands a bloody chance against cable's groundbreaking spookfest.

Which freaks you out more? Proceed with caution.

1. Insane medical professionals keeping the nearly dead alive.

"Hannibal"

In only Episode 2, "Amuse-Bouche," "Hannibal" took the classic buried-alive theme to a new, well-fertilized level. A depraved pharmacist — who just wanted to make "connections" between fungi and the brain — put his diabetic clients into a coma by handing over the wrong meds and then creating a mushroom garden out of their barely alive bodies. (Well, we'll never be in the mood for shiitakes again!) Clearly, this victim's a fungi — zing! Hey, nothing wrong with some levity when discussing such a messed-up TV moment.

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"American Horror Story"

In possibly the most shocking scene in "American Horror Story" history (it sent shockwaves through the Internet), institutionalized Shelley (the gorgeous Chloe Sevigny) was turned into a suffering monster at the hands of sick and twisted Nazi war criminal Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell). Arguably no TV horror scene rivals the effects of watching Shelley claw her way up those stairs only to be discovered by a young schoolgirl. There are surely plenty of viewers who wish to this day that they could unsee this moment.

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2. Burned alive.

"Hannibal"

If you hadn't heard of Cotard's Syndrome before the "Hannibal" episode "Buffet Froid," you definitely had afterward. Poor Georgia Madchen (Ellen Muth) believed she was dead, and it took the handsome Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) to bring her back to "life." Even if she did give her pal a Glasgow smile (see below), it was hard not to feel bad for her. In the end, Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) found a way to make sure she was dead, for real, and burned to a crisp.

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"American Horror Story"

"American Horror Story" visited the burning-alive theme in both seasons. In "Murder House," troubled teen Tate (Evan Peters) couldn't stand his annoying wannabe dad, Larry (Denis O'Hare), and set him on fire before going on a school shooting rampage. That in itself set many viewers off and was heavily ridiculed for being massively insensitive.

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In Season 2, the deranged Dr. Arden hopped into a crematorium with love-turned-Satan Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) after Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) pushed her off a staircase landing to her death. (She briefly turned back to her normal self sans the Devil before dying.) Now that's, er, true love.

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3. Yum, organs.

"Hannibal"

They don't call him Hannibal the Cannibal for nothing. And in "Hannibal" — before the notorious gourmand is caught and imprisoned — he is a master chef with a knack for fine food and drink. The scenes of him preparing food are elaborate, elegant, and impossible to stomach. Talk about an appetite suppressant.

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"American Horror Story"

What's good for the baby is good for the mama, right? In the case of "American Horror Story: Murder House," that means brains. And who wouldn't trust Constance (Jessica Lange) when she says she has a delicacy for you? For maximum vitamins, Vivienne (Connie Britton) takes Constance's advice and eats (what she's told is pig) brain raw.

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4. Serial killers disguised as psychiatrists.

"Hannibal"

Zachary Quinto, you haunt our dreams with your Bloody Face mask. In "Asylum," Dr. Oliver Thredson worked out his mommy issues as Bloody Face, a killer who did the unimaginable.

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"American Horror Story"

Is there really anything more terrifying than a ruthless cannibalistic murderer disguised as an upstanding member of the medical community? We think not.

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5. Glasgow smile for the camera.

"Hannibal"

Before Georgia Madchen was brought back to "life" by Will Graham, she hid under her childhood best friend's bed and wielded a big knife. Lesson: Be careful who you hang out with.

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"American Horror Story"

In a Black Dahlia shout-out, actress Mena Suvari guest starred on "Murder House" as Elizabeth Short, and she looked surprisingly lovely as one of Hollywood's most famous murder victims.

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Honorable/horrible mentions:

"Hannibal"

It's still a mystery how no one saw Lawrence Wells (Lance Henriksen) assemble this massive body-parts totem on the beach, but it doesn't really matter. The towering image will stay with viewers for a long time.

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A man who's suffering from brain tumors felt that he needed guardian angels to watch over him as he slept, so he made himself some. (Is this a premonition about Will Graham, who's unknowingly suffering from encephalitis?)

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We thought Eddie Izzard was supposed to be funny. Apparently, the British comedian also makes an unbelievably convincing killer as the cold and calculating Dr. Gideon, who's stealing Hannibal's thunder as the Chesapeake Ripper. Gideon's Colombian necktie is one of his most memorably disgusting moments.

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"American Horror Story"

Many viewers suspected that angsty teenager Violet Harmon (Taissa Farmiga) was dead, but seeing her body buried in the basement with bugs pouring out of her face was almost too much to handle.

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It was sad to see innocent and impressionable Sister Mary Eunice become possessed by the devil, but it was downright uncomfortable to see possessed teen Jed Potter (Devon Graye) undergo a violent and explicit exorcism before dying and releasing the spirit to find a new host in Mary Eunice.

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Did "American Horror Story" ruin Christmas? Maybe for some. Watching an unhinged murderer dressed as a psycho Santa Claus (Ian McShane) break into a family's house before Christmas and slaughter them was a breaking point for some viewers and definitely resulted in some not-so-silent (or restful!) nights around the holidays.

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Winner: "American Horror Story"

"Hannibal" might have more troubling and elaborate images of death, but at its heart, it's still a cop procedural. "American Horror Story" is deeply psychologically and supernaturally disturbing, and its memory and message haunt viewers long after each insane season signs off. Nonetheless, if you have trouble sleeping, you might also avoid "Hannibal," which has taken network TV to a place where it's certainly never been.

Do you think it's too graphic and dark for NBC? Sound off in the comments below!

The "Hannibal" Season 1 finale airs Thursday, 6/20 at 10 PM on NBC.

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